Starring: James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Juliet Mills, Brian Keith
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Mood: If you love Disney and Westerns AND cows and wish there was a Disneyesque Western about cows that’s still thoroughly satisfying.
“You may bulldog steer, but you cannot bulldog me.”
Martha Evans (Maureen O’Hara)
If ever there was a Western that was meant for me, The Rare Breed has to be it.
It’s an action-packed movie with the perfect balance of comedy and drama, starring two of my favourite actors of all time: James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara. And the entire story is centred around the sweetest Hereford bull.
It’s not a cowboy movie – it’s a COW movie!
I friggin’ adore both Stewart and O’Hara so much that I didn’t bother to read anything about The Rare Breed before buying it or putting it on. And I never do that.
If I’d thought about it, I probably would have assumed the title and somber cover refer to either a rugged frontiersman, a refined lady, or an Indigenous character who, unsurprisingly, drives the story but didn’t make the movie cover.
I will admit there’s a hint of a Disney quality to it. I mean, one of the supporting actors is Juliet Mills, sister of ‘60s Disney darling Hayley Mills. And another supporting actor, Brian Keith, had previously starred with O’Hara and Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. So yeah, it’s a vibe.
But I love the camp of ‘60s Westerns, and this was right up my alley. If you enjoy Stewart or O’Hara, they’re both in fine form here. And if you’re a rancher or cow enthusiast, The Rare Breed will yank your ever heartstring with its heartwarming-yet-realistic story.
The Rare Breed is the story of Vindicator, a Hereford bull of exceptional English breeding. Vindicator traveled by ship with Martha Evans (Maureen O’Hara) and her daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) to establish Hereford cattle in the West. It was Martha’s husband’s dream, but he died on the ship.
Don’t worry, that’s not the tone of the movie!
Right out of the gate, you get a grand parade with longhorn cattle being driven through town to the Stockman’s Expo auction. People are dressed in their Sunday best, cheering from the sidewalks. Everybody loves cows!
Despite all the men ridiculing our handsome Hereford hero, they want to impress the pretty Evans women so bidding war breaks out – followed by a gloriously choreographed stock pen brawl, started by local bulldogger Sam Burnett (James Stewart) and surly henchman Deke Simons (Jack Elam).
It becomes apparent that every man has ulterior motives, so Martha and Hilary join Sam in escorting their beloved bovine to his new home. Like everyone else, Sam thinks Vindicator is a joke, and Hilary overheard Sam making what looks like a shady deal.
But the brave bull’s name is 100% fitting for this story, and after many more chases, brawls, shootouts, scenes that made me ugly-cry, and one long-ass blizzardy Texas winter… vindication is due.
I usually talk about the strongest performance first, but there’s no choosing between Stewart and O’Hara in The Rare Breed. You’ll have to settle for a mashup.
- Although they apparently didn’t get along on set, they’re both such seasoned pros that their characters have great chemistry
- This is a super refreshing story and pairing for ‘60s Hollywood, because O’Hara was around 45 at the time of shooting and Stewart was 57 – and the story is about two midlife adults who have dealt with a lot of shit but still have a whole life ahead
- O’Hara is seriously stunning as Martha; she practically sparkles, expertly keeping your eyes on her as she draws out each emotion and giving the finger to anyone who thinks women over 30 shouldn’t be on film
- The normally commanding, confident Stewart is adorable in a sort of awkward, flustered performance complete with an accent that sounds like it’s rolled over marbles
- I could sing the praises of O’Hara doing all of her own horseback scenes for days
- And Stewart is the one with the strongest arc who, with the bull, delivers all of the emotions that basically cut my heart out with a spoon
Now let’s talk about everybody else.
The Rare Breed is PACKED with Western character icons: Harry Carey Jr., Jack Elam, and Ben Johnson all have roles. And although I’d have loved to see more of Ben Johnson (he’s only in the first scenes), Jack Elam is outstandingly despicable.
Juliet Mills gives you everything you probably needed to see as a young woman watching a Western in the ‘60s – or right now. She’s fiery, outspoken, and extremely capable with animals.
My favourite thing about her character and performance is that even though she’s cocky and occasionally comedic, it’s always done in a way that embraces her strengths. There’s no audacity to it, because she can back it all up with her knowledge and skills. Even when the men are laughing at her opinions or ignoring her, the audience plainly sees that she’s actually right.
And Brian Keith is delightfully disgusting as the Scottish rancher Bowen. You can practically smell him through the screen as he oozes unkempt, hot-headed patriarchy from under his many animal hides.
I meant it when I said this movie was action-packed. I live for those brawls where every man and woman on set is punching someone, and there are several of those in this movie. There are also horse chases, bullets flying, manhunts in the snow, and a massive stampede in a box canyon.
Apparently there was a major mishap while shooting that stampede scene, and the wagon flipped on the stuntwomen instead of throwing them clear. I’m glad the director kept the scene, because holy shit did my jaw drop.
The costumes are colourful and fun, and really well done for this type of Western.
And the story is SO GOOD, this review took me two days to write because I needed to get across that you need to see it. You have these strong women who are going to get the job done, a second-time-around adult romance, so much action, and of course the bull.
Stewart was a master at letting a non-human drive the story, as we saw in the amazing Winchester ‘73. In that movie he was following the lead of a gun, and here his character flows through his journey with a bull and it’s perfection.
The ONLY crappy scene is when you see Martha teaching a group of local kids, whom she has befriended to be fair, to sing ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘America’. Even though in all the other scenes the Latinx kids freely do whatever they want around the town and she doesn’t otherwise take a role of teacher or caregiver to them, it still echoes a residential school.
In case it’s not obvious at this point, I’m obsessed with this movie. I’m not even mad that The Rare Breed made me cry multiple times and didn’t give me the exact ending I wanted.
There are so many reasons to watch it, and I hope that you’ve already quit reading this to go make that happen.